In an almost comical turn of events, more second-hand and counterfeit goods are on their way to Haiti. These sorts of efforts, while certainly well intentioned, are not constructive. They do not contribute to real reconstruction and recovery efforts.
For a more well developed take on the issue, see here.
Filed under: Blogging
It’s been way too long since I’ve written a real post here. Since before the new year, I was busy preparing grad school applications, writing essay after essay after essay, and every time I’d sit down to blog, I felt a twinge of guilt for not spending that creative energy on my applications. Then there was January 12th. What you’d think would have given me more reason than ever to blog actually left me too busy to blog.
But now, hopefully, my moment of inactivity has passed and I can return to making regular contributions to this blog. I hope to be back soon!
Filed under: Bill Clinton, Haiti's Recovery, International Aid Organizations
From the NY Times Editorial Page:
The emergency in Haiti isn’t over. It’s getting worse, as the outside world’s attention fades away.
Misery rages like a fever in the hundreds of camps sheltering hundreds of thousands of the 1.3 million people left homeless by the Jan. 12 earthquake. The dreaded rains have already swamped tents and ragged stick-and-tarp huts. They have turned walkways into mud lakes and made difficult or impossible the simple acts of collecting and cooking food, washing clothes, staying clean and avoiding disease. The rainy season peaks in May.
Worsening the weather crisis are the unchecked sexual assaults and rapes in the camps, where families are squeezed side by side in flimsy quarters and women and girls are left unprotected after dark.
A new report from Amnesty International affirms that security is inadequate, that police and soldiers are often missing, that every nightfall brings terror. Victims stay silent because rapists go uncaught and unpunished; what little policing exists is focused on other priorities.
Both the shelter and safety crises demand an urgent response, and while feelings of urgency abound in Haiti, their impact is only sporadically felt. The little country is swarming with well-intentioned organizations, each trying to do their little bit of help. One group is trying to distribute thousands of flashlights to women and girls. It’s a kind and practical gesture, but what they really need are shelters from sexual violence, and adequate policing. Haiti has neither, Amnesty International reports.
Any effective solution would need to be coordinated with the government of Haiti, whose leaders have been absent from the lives of Haitian citizens since the disaster. When former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton visited the capital of Port-au-Prince this week, they joined President René Préval in touring the camp in Champ de Mars, across the street from the slumped-over presidential palace. Screams of frustration greeted them. Where have you been? Why have you not helped us?
From the first days of this disaster, someone should have been racing to find places to build sturdy housing away from the densely crowded, quake-shattered capital. But the Haitian government only this week took the necessary step of invoking eminent-domain power to seize land. Sites have been identified, but the number of places available for new housing is still zero. Only a few hundred people have been moved from the camps.
We understand the government has been working hard to prepare for a donor conference next week, where big ideas for the future will be discussed. But back in old Haiti, land of tents and tarps, workers have been putting fresh coats of plaster and blue paint on buildings on the United Nations compound in Port-au-Prince, and the rest of the world is moving on.
Some United States troops have started going home. Overmatched workers for United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations are toiling away, many of them heroically. But ultimately progress must be judged by results. New ways must be found to solve problems, and urgency sustained. Haiti is in danger of becoming what it always was, a nagging blot on the conscience, a neglected project that never gets done.
Filed under: Haiti's Recovery
Published on Toward Freedom
An interview of Haitian peasant advocate Chavannes Jean-Baptiste by Beverly Bell
Chavannes Jean-Baptiste is the Executive Director of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP by its Creole acronym) and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP). He gave this interview last month in MPP’s training center in the rambling, fertile fields and gardens in the Central Plateau. There, peasants come to practice environmental farming and to learn about food sovereignty, a program of local production for local consumption that small farmer movements are advocating in Haiti and throughout the world. Food sovereignty requires the protection of domestic markets through tariffs on food imports, as well as land reform, native seeds, and technical and environmental support. It also requires the democratic input of citizens into the formation of trade and development policies.
We have to take advantage of this catastrophe and say, “The clock is set at zero.” We have to build another Haiti that doesn’t have anything to do with the Haiti we had before. A Haiti that is sovereign politically and that has food sovereignty. It has to begin by building agriculture.
We peasants have been victims for more than 200 years. The slaves who struggled to get their independence did so in part to get land from the colonialists. But from the moment of independence, the Haitian army generals had the idea that the slaves would remain slaves, working their land instead of the colonists’ land. That led to a division between rich and poor, between people of the city and people of the country. That gave us two countries inside one small country, those of the republic of Port-au-Prince and the republic of ‘those outside.’ ‘Those outside’ are 80% of the population.
We even had two birth certificates: one for peasants and one for people from town. In President Aristide’s first term, we demanded that there be just one.
Almost all services of the state were concentrated in Port-au-Prince. If you needed a passport, if you needed an identity card, if you needed to send your child to college… the Republic of Port-au-Prince was where you went. It was in there, too, that everyone came to find work, because they couldn’t stay ‘outside’, because ‘outside’ has nothing. So it became a city of three million people, one big slum with people building everywhere in chaos, with houses in ravines, with no drainage. We saw the results on January 12; other countries have had much worse earthquakes but only lose a few people. We lost five youth from MPP in the catastrophe because they were at a university in Port-au-Prince. They lost their lives because they wanted an education.
Little by little, the state has abandoned the countryside, leaving the peasants as a marginalized class whom they just use when they need votes in an election.
And now we have Bill Clinton’s reconstruction plan, which is the model of Haiti dominated by the international community. The aid they are giving is not the aid we want. The plan is for Haiti to become a market for international export and for labor in the free trade zones. They speak of comparative advantage, which means that Haiti is a manual labor force. We are supposed to go work in the sweatshops while they send us food aid. This project is opposed to the peasants’ project.
It’s clear that you can’t develop a country and build another Haiti where 80% of the people are excluded. And so one of our objectives in MPP has been to make the countryside become a paradise, where people want to go live instead of having to go to Port-au-Prince to work for potato skins.
Development centered on peasants, with the creation of jobs for the rural milieu, will allow youth to stay in the country. It will allow those who are part of the exodus to rural areas after the earthquake to stay. Most of them are saying, “We want to stay but we need work.” Decentralizing Port-au-Prince and building up agriculture could make that happen. There are other things that could be done in the countryside, too. For example, the [earthquake-struck areas] have so much to rebuild, and construction materials could be made by the rural sector. If we have electricity, if we have schools, if we have work here, no one has a reason to move to Port-au-Prince.
We can establish programs to reinforce peasant and family agriculture to allow the rural milieu to produce food. Today we only produce enough to feed 40% of the population, but we have the potential to make our lands produce enough to feed the whole population and even to export. This must start with giving Haitians access to land, giving them security over it, and getting support for them to develop organic farming, what we call agro-ecology.
The policy we need for this to happen is food sovereignty, where the county has the right to define it own agricultural policies, to grow first for the family and then for local market, to grow healthy food in a way which respects the environment and Mother Earth, which is the mother of the generations.
Today, though Haiti is an essentially agricultural country, we are entirely dependent on the Dominican Republic. We get most of our eggs, bananas, and other things there. Even though it has the same neoliberalism [the free trade policies of globalization] we do, it still has a certain autonomy. For example, they decided they were going to be autonomous in the production of rice; they weren’t going to let Miami [imported] rice and second-hand clothes come into their country. They took measures to make that happen. For us, our free trade policies have inundated our market with imports. Our agriculture has been destroyed.
What we need is for us, the peasant organizations, to manage the food question. Our agenda is agricultural production that includes cattle raising, integrated water management, production of organic insecticides and fertilizer. We will continue with these but we will have to make some changes in our immediate priorities because right now we’re dealing with an exodus from the city, people we need to feed and take care of.
We need to establish seed banks and have silos where we can store our Creole seeds. Local, organic seeds is part of our base of food sovereignty. We have a danger today from countries in the Americas, especially the U.S., Brazil, and Argentina where Monsanto has already developed big farms to produce genetically modified seeds. If they start sending these seeds into Haiti, that is the death of peasants, who since independence more than 200 years ago have protected their seeds. It’s urgent that Haitians buy local seeds. Peasants are saying that they have til March 15 to buy their bean and vegetable seeds. With black peas, in two months you will have food.
What the danger we face today? It’s that food aid from USAID, and others are getting dumped in the country. We recognize that it’s essential in this moment of crisis. There is an urgency to get food in immediately but there’s also an urgency to produce food. We’ll show you the vegetables we can start harvesting after six weeks. In six months we need to start eliminating food aid so that peasants can produce and feed the population. Of course that requires a lot of help with irrigation.
What’s essential is agrarian reform which would allow us to make peasants the masters and the managers of their own land. It’s not possible that an American, a Frenchman, or a Swiss own big plots of land in Haiti. Land must be owned by the peasants who work it, and they need to be able to leave it to their descendants when they die. Along with land, we need credit, technical assistance, and markets to sell our products.
We’re telling everyone that if they want to want to help Haiti with food, they should help us with peasant production. We will need help with water management, we need cisterns, tools, technical support, rural universities. And we need to change the free trade policies. But in four to five years years we could become sovereign in food production.
Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds, http://www.otherworldsarepossible.org, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.
Filed under: Haiti's Recovery
From Michael Deibert:
A huge recovery challenge lies ahead for Haiti after its devastating earthquake, but could the rebuilding programmes bring about an essential economic restructuring? Michael Deibert reports from Port-au-Prince.
The incremental economic progress that Haiti, an impoverished Caribbean nation of 9 million people, had been experiencing over the past several years was brought to a cataclysmic halt late on the afternoon of January 12, when a 7.0 earthquake centred just south of the capital city sent the pillars of state and industry crashing to the ground in a heap of dust.
In a matter of seconds, Haiti’s Palais National, Palais de Justice, Parliament and many government ministries were either totally or partially destroyed. The top command of the UN mission, whose troops had been supporting the government of president René Préval since his 2006 election, lost their lives, along with an estimated 200,000 Haitians. Factories collapsed onto their owners and workers alike, and entire neighbourhoods tumbled down the brooding mountains that surround the capital city’s bay.
Haiti, already desperately poor but having experienced its first sustained period of political calm and stirrings of foreign investment interest in many decades, seemed as if it would be reduced to an even graver level than it had been before: mortally wounded, traumatised, ungovernable. In addition to the buildings destroyed, Haiti had also lost some of those best placed to aid its tenuous economic recovery, among them one of the country’s most respected economists, Philippe Rouzier, as well as Jean Frantz Richard and Murray Lustin Junior, the director-general and director of operations, respectively, at the Direction Générale des Impôts, the country’s main tax office in the capital.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, as of early February at least 460,000 people were still living in 315 spontaneous settlements throughout Port-au-Prince, while the World Food Programme said that more than 1.6 million people had received supplies since the start of the earthquake response.
But Haiti’s industrious population knows a little something about struggle and perseverance, even in the face of such a devastating tragedy. Within days of the earthquake, the country’s market women, taxi drivers and other labourers had returned to the streets, resuming commerce among the hundreds of thousands camped out between the shells of ruined buildings. Capital residents began to flow back into Haiti’s countryside, seeking family solace among the loss.
From a terrible misfortune, some hoped that Haiti might still have set in motion the seeds for a new beginning. Despite the ousting of a popular prime minister last autumn, Haiti’s modest economic engine, buoyed by an extended period of relative political tranquillity and an improved security situation, continued chugging along under a new prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, seemingly bearing out a December 2008 UN report asserting that it was striking “how modest are the impediments to competitiveness relative to the huge opportunities offered by the fundamentals” in the country.
Last year, billionaire George Soros’s Economic Development Fund announced plans to create a $45m industrial park in Cité Soleil, one of the capital’s poorest neighbourhoods, while two new hotels were set to open along the country’s lush south coast.
At the same time, the OTF Group, a competitiveness consulting firm credited with breathing new life into Rwanda’s tourism, coffee and agro-industry sectors following the country’s 1994 genocide, praised the business opportunities in Haiti. Focusing on several key “growth clusters” to drive economic development, it hoped to help create 500,000 jobs in Haiti within three years.
Following the earthquake, though reassessed, the group said its conclusions did not necessarily need to be shelved, just pushed back for six months to a year.
“The outmigration from [Port-au-Prince] is a huge opportunity to reverse the migration trends of the past two decades,” says OTF director Robert Henning. “If reconstruction can create opportunities and jobs outside of the capital, this will achieve an important goal of redistributing the influence and economic weight of Haiti.”
Though the country’s interior has been severely deforested over the past few decades, local groups, such as the Mouvman Peyizan Nasyonal Kongrè Papay, have worked for years on reforestation and irrigation projects and some areas, such as the Artibonite Valley, remain relatively fertile. With Port-au-Prince’s harbour severely damaged and the likelihood of recurrent large-scale earthquakes extremely high, according to the US Geological Survey, international attention has for the first time begun to look seriously at developing Haiti’s long-neglected interior with manufacturing and agricultural initiatives.
A long border with neighbouring Dominican Republic, which lends itself to the possibility of free-trade zones, and possible ports that might conceivably be expanded around the country – including Miragoâne (in the country’s west), Saint-Marc (in the middle region) and Cap-Haïtien (in the north) – would seem to support this possibility for future investment.
Following a decision last year by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank to cancel $1.2bn of Haiti’s debt – with the latter institution approving an additional $120m in grants for investments in key sectors such as infrastructure, basic services and disaster prevention, the G-7 countries told Haiti after a post-earthquake meeting in Canada in February that the country’s debts to the body did not need to be repaid.
None of this in any way minimises the grievous shock – physical, psychological and economic – that Haiti’s people and its government have suffered because of those terrible moments in January. But, day by day, it appears to be picking itself up, dusting itself off and trying to decide where it will head from here.
“The extent of this disaster is also due to the fact that this country has not been managed, or rather has been ill-managed, for the past 50 years,” says Michèle Pierre-Louis, a civil society leader and former prime minister of Haiti. “Maybe after mourning our dead and saving the lives of the survivors, we should start thinking about ways to put together our energies, our solidarity, our creativity to rebuild our capital under some kind of strong leadership… [which] could eventually lead to rebuilding the entire country. Now is the time.”
Filed under: Haiti Earthquake Relief
Below is a summary of recent positive signs in Haiti’s political and economic development. They come from testimony by Mark L. Schneider, Senior Vice President, International Crisis Group to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs, and International Environmental Protection on Haiti’s Reconstruction: Smart Planning Moving Forward, 4 February 2010, Washington, DC
- Reforms were taking hold within the civilian police; in fact a 2009 poll showed over 70 percent of the population approved of their performance, a far cry from the past.
- The first glimmers of judicial reform in 50 years were seen with the opening of an academy to train judges, and passage of key laws to set merit-based standards and salaries for judges and to establish a monitoring commission to vet existing judges and provide professional assessment of their performance.
- The first class of trained corrections officers had graduated and a plan to build new and restructure older jails was underway.
- The HOPE II legislation had boosted employment by close to 25,000 and recruitment by former President Clinton had brought investors to Haiti. The transition from showy pledges to actual capital investment projects underway, including on a $55 m. Royal Caribbean Cruise expansion of the Labadee resort and a new industrial park on the outskirts of Port au Prince, thanks to a $25 m. commitment from George Soros, a member of Crisis Group board of trustees.
- Haiti had a fully functioning legislature, which after risking stability by ousting a competent prime minister Michele Pierre Louis, at least demonstrated a marked readiness to act by approving the new Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerives, his slate of ministers and their program in record time, when the same process last spring took months.
- Haiti’s budget for the current fiscal year — contrary to that of the United States — was actually passed on time; the previous budget had not been approved until eight months into the fiscal year.
- In October, the United Nations extended its mandate for another year and Latin American nations swiftly reaffirmed its leadership, contributing some 4000 of MINUSTAH’s 7000 formal military members.
- For three years, the Preval administration had met its fiscal targets, reduced inflation, and maintained a stable monetary structure. Despite the devastation caused by four consecutive storms in 2008 and the global economic crisis, Haiti was one of two countries in the region to post positive economic growth (2.4 percent) in 2009. The progress prompted the IMF and World Bank to endorse the cancellation of $1.2 billion of Haiti’s multilateral debt, more than half. The earthquake not only justifies — but truly demands – that the last half of Haiti’s debt be written off.
I continue to be overwhelmed by the acts of solidarity I am witnessing. My former Peace Corps community, Batey 8, a Haitian and Haitian-Dominican village and itself one of the poorest settings in the Dominican Republic, is sending volunteers into Haiti and to the Haitian-Dominican border town of Jimani to assist with the relief efforts.
For the past six days, those Batey residents with medical training – a handful are nursing students at a state-run university nearby – have been in Haiti attending to injured survivors. The community itself is sending food, clothes, and medical supplies each day in the back of a pickup truck, and many others are along the border at Jimani translating Haitian Creole to Spanish in the Dominican hospitals tending to Haitians.
When understood in the context of the longstanding hostility between Haitians and Dominicans, and the grinding poverty of the Dominican’s Bateys, these courageous acts of solidarity are all the more inspiring.